Engineering: The Process in the Middle

The STEM acronym is a bit of a double-edged sword in my world. On the one hand, as I discussed in my previous post, it can set up new boundaries and isolate the technical thinkers from more holistic and transdisciplinary approaches. On the other hand, it introduces engineering into the education mix. And in my mind, that is a very good thing. Unfortunately, many attempts to incorporate engineering into curriculum are following the same path that lead science education to the highly formulaic, prescriptive format that we see embraced in many classrooms. Follow the rules, memorize the facts, learn the answer, discount the brilliant imaginations responsible for the question and make it seem highly complex and exclusive. In short, take all of the fun out of it!

Engineering can be a great pathway to engage all sorts of different learners in STEM topics and fields. It lies in the middle, embodying the process by which we use science and math to create technologies to solve human problems and to meet our needs. The T in STEM refers to the artifacts of the designed world not just sophisticated electronic and digital devices as many believe. In a very real sense, the T represents the world we live in, a highly engineered environment that has evolved from our investigations and applications of science and math. Engineering links Science and Math to all of the Technologies that we have already designed and those that we need to create to solve future problems. It is truly is the process in the middle. And as a process, it is rich in skills and techniques that connect and translate across many other disciplines.

Engineer in the Middle 1.0

If you start with the S and M to create T, you can develop rich curriculum that is grounded in the idea of mastery through application and innovation. If you start with the T and work backwards to the S and the M, you create a “need to know” and a robust platform to engage those who learn by doing – the “tinkerers” in your classroom. By providing different pathways to developing and reinforcing concepts, Engineering is a natural in a differentiated classroom world. It has to be – you can’t solve most human problems with a one size fits all approach.

ProjectEngin’s vision of seamless, evolutionary incorporation of Engineering into K-12 curriculum is based on the belief that no modern education can afford to leave out the designed or engineered world – it is the one we live in. It is part of our nature to engineer solutions to problems. The “hands-on” tactile types among us often learn by taking things apart to see how they work. They reverse engineer from technology to the science in the background. The imaginative types ask a lot of ‘what if” questions and test out scientific ideas by putting them to use and, as a result, engineering new technologies. But in many science classrooms, facts are presented as if in a box with little time to “open” them and take them apart and even less time to use them outside of a scripted verification experiment. Including Engineering enables learners to take facts apart to see how they work or to put ideas together to see if they work. Taking time to explore the process in the middle makes room for all learners and makes learning real and connected. And fun!!

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